The last person to turn out the lights was a security guard.
After twenty five years protecting this building, its staff and patients, he had come to love the way the old staircases sounded when he stepped on them, knowing where to put his feet to make each floorboard creak.
He had taken note of every patient as they entered through the heavy front door and passed in the lobby. He’d seen the confusion and fear and confusion in their eyes, and heard every cry.
He waited for the day when they left, confident and well enough to return to life in the ‘real world’. They would shake hands and hug him to say ‘goodbye'. He would reply that he hoped not to see them again! With a smile and eagerness of step, they would leave through the heavy front door.
There were some that never left of course. Bob lost count of the poor souls he had had to cut down from a ceiling beam or light fitting – and the bodies he had escorted down in the rickety old lift to take up their space in the mortuary.
Bob recognised all of them, and each death left a pain somewhere in his heart. Over time he felt he knew which people would end their days at Blackheath.
They had a more quiet confusion and when he looked into those eyes and took hold of those hands, he saw a more profound sense of loss – like something inside them had given up.
Sometimes Bob got it wrong, and he was pleased to help carry the belongings of a ‘recovered’ person to a waiting taxi, or watch as they were embraced by a grateful loved one. Nothing made him happier than when he got it wrong. He always hoped he would.
The best part of Bob’s job was the people - from the patients to the cleaning staff, doctors and nurses with whom he had shared many an hour of banter.
Those people had become his friends, and the beautiful building was much more than just a workplace now. It was a second home.
He knew every inch of it, from which door had the trickiest lock to which piece of the old pipe work had last sprung a leak!
Nobody ever really stuck to their given jobs. Where it was possible, they all just sort of mucked in. They were more than friends, they were a family, and as he ran his hands over the wooden panelling of the last door he locked, Bob had tears in his eyes.